Australia's mystified captain Steven Smith apologised to travelling supporters for having to witness an ugly 3-0 defeat, before saying the touring batsmen and spin bowlers had a lot of thinking to do about their cricket in Asian conditions ahead of next year's trip to India.
The visiting batsmen fell in an unruly heap on the final day of the series after reaching a platform of 100 for 1, mirroring their first innings slide from 267 for 1 to 379 all out. Smith, who was out when trying to cut Rangana Herath off the stumps for the second time in the series, said recurring problems for the batsmen and the spinners Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland were the major problems to arise from a contest in which the pacemen Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had done well.
"It's a hard one to grasp really, it's been a very tough series again, that is our third straight whitewash loss in the subcontinent," Smith said. "What we are doing isn't working. Batters aren't adapting to the conditions, spin bowlers aren't adapting to the conditions. I can't fault our quicks, I thought they did a great job, particularly Starc, but our batters and spinners are the ones who have to step up in these conditions and we haven't been able to do that.
"We have been outplayed in every facet of the game, our plans haven't worked as individuals or as a collective group, we haven't been able to put Sri Lanka under as much pressure as we would have liked."
Smith explained the selection of the allrounder Moises Henriques who was out twice cheaply and bowled only two overs in the defeat having come into the side in place of Usman Khawaja. "He was picked pretty much as a batsman," he said. "He can obviously bowl a little bit. Mitch Marsh is the allrounder in the team.
"In these conditions, it is the spinners' job to get the majority of the wickets as the Sri Lankan spinners did, we just haven't been able to do that. The selectors are there to do the job and I back whatever they go with. We're here to do a job and in this series and we haven't been able to do that."
Reflecting on where the series was won and lost, Smith harked back to the first innings of the first Test at Pallekele, when Australia bowled Sri Lanka out for 117 but then failed to capitalise in being rolled over for just 203 in response. Sri Lanka were then granted a lead through the brilliance of Kusal Mendis, and never again surrendered the initiative.
"That was a great opportunity for us," Smith said. "I thought we did particularly well that first day to bowl them out for 117, and then a lead of 86 in that first innings wasn't good enough. We had another chance to go really big and put the Sri Lankan batters under a bit of pressure and we weren't able to do that. Since then we haven't really fought our way back. It's been difficult, we've batted second in every game we've played, and you're always behind the game knowing you have to bat last in these conditions. That first innings of the series did hurt us."
Australia have committed enormous resources to trying to educate players in Asian conditions, whether sending Australia A and the National Performance Squad to India or installing a "spin wicket" at the National Cricket Centre. But Smith said that the surface was only a rough approximation of what his men had faced in Sri Lanka.
"I'd love the wickets to be as they were back in the old days when the SCG broke up and reverse swung and spun late in the game, Adelaide the same," Smith said. "It's harder with Adelaide now as a drop-in wicket to get that same surface up. Even when the wickets are turning back home they're different to the subcontinent wickets.
"They've always got a little bit more bounce than the wickets over here. It's hard to replicate anything you get in the subcontinent back home. We've got the spinning wicket at the NCC, I've had a bat on that and it spins, but there's probably too much bounce for what you get in the subcontinent. So it's hard to replicate what you're going to get but I'd like as much as we can to get the Shield wickets back to the old days as such."